Putin: U.S. military advisers in Georgia conflict

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said U.S. military advisers had been involved in this month’s conflict in Georgia and the White House could have planned it to help Republicans win the U.S. election.

Putin’s comments, broadcast by a German television station on Friday, expanded on remarks in an interview with CNN shown on Thursday which the White House said were “patently false”.

Russia faces a storm of criticism from the United States and European Union over its military intervention in Georgia’s breakaway South Ossetia region and recognition of South Ossetia and another separatist part of Georgia as independent states.

Putin said Russia had acted fully in accordance with international law in defending South Ossetia, which was attacked by Georgian forces on Aug 7-8, sparking an international crisis.

“We know there were a lot of U.S. advisers (in Georgia)… but instructors, teachers and personnel for military weapons should be on firing ranges and in the teaching centers — but where were they? They were in the zone of military operations.”

“And that pushes one to the conclusion that the leadership of the United States knew about the action that was being prepared and moreover probably took part in it,” Putin said.

Putin, speaking to Germany’s ARD station before an EU meeting to discuss the Georgia crisis on Monday, bluntly told Europe to stop taking orders from Washington.

“In a significant way the crisis was provoked, including by our American friends in the course of the election struggle. This was the use of administrative resources in a deplorable way to provide advantage to one of the candidates, in the current case from the ruling party,” Putin said.

“SMALL, VICTORIOUS WAR”

Putin said that Russia had found signs U.S. citizens had been in the zone of military operations in Georgia.

“If the leadership of the United States had sanctioned that, then I have the suspicion that it was done specially to organize a small, victorious war,” Putin said.

“And if it didn’t work then to make Russia appear like an enemy and on those grounds unite the electorate around one presidential candidate, of course the ruling party.”

He did not name Republican candidate John McCain directly.

Putin, who stepped down as president in May after eight years as the Kremlin chief, said Russia had “swallowed” independence for Kosovo but been rewarded with a conflict on its border, which Moscow viewed as an attack on Russia itself.

He said Europe had ignored Serbia’s territorial integrity by recognizing Kosovo at the behest of the White House. “If European countries will continue to act like that then we will have to talk about European affairs with Washington,” he said.

The West is debating how to put pressure on Moscow, which supplies a quarter of the European Union’s gas needs. The EU is Russia’s biggest trading partner.

Georgia has accused Russia of using the conflict to topple Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and to hinder Georgia’s aspirations to join the NATO military alliance.

When asked if that was the real aim of Russia during the conflict, Putin said: “That is not the case, that is simply juggling with the facts and a lie.”

He said the United States had used NATO to keep Europe under control after the end of the Cold War and that Russia was being artificially built up an enemy.

“They needed an external enemy and Iran doesn’t suit that role very well, and they want to resuscitate Russia as the threat,” he said, adding that Russia could not be isolated.

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